Sunday, July 29, 2012

TRES OJOS y EL PALACIO NATIONAL

If you want to skip reading this blog and just want to see pictures => click HERE
TRES OJOS
Comparatively speaking this was not a real busy week.  We took a little break and visited TRES OJOS and EL PALACIO NACIONAL

Quoting Wikipedia:  Los Tres Ojos (The Three Eyes in English) is the name given to a 50-foot open-air limestone cave located in the Mirador del Este park, in the Santo Domingo Este.”  (It is about 10 minutes from our home in SD).   It is a series of three lakes, or ojos.


                                                                          Can you see the hand at the bottom?
Wikipedia: “The site was created centuries ago as a result of tectonic fractures when underground caves collapsed, forming a bowl-shaped depression which subsequently filled with water.   Initially, the cave was inhabited by the indigenous Taino Indians who were the first inhabitants of the Hispaniola island. The three lakes are called "Aguas Azufradas" (discovered in 1916), "The Nevera" and "El Lago de las Mujeres".   A staircase cut into the rock gives access to the first cave. A boat pulls visitors across the second lake.”  (They pull you across for free, but they charge $25 RD (25 pesos) to get out of the boat when you come back.)


“The two ponds are respectively made of sulphurous water and salt water, while the large lake is composed of freshwater. Their temperature varies between 20°C to 29°C.  The fauna is also very varied and includes fish, bats and turtles. Surrounding vegetation is lush and abundant. The depth of the lake remains unknown. The lakes formed a backdrop to some scenes from the movie Jurassic Park.
EL PALACIO NACIONAL
We had the rare opportunity to tour the National Palace with a lot of the other missionaries.  Here are few pictures.


FOOD PROJECT
Wallace spent some time putting together a garden box which he plans to put in the front patio area.  We are assigned to start a Food Initiative Project in the Dominican Republic.  We were instructed to start with gardens and maybe later we will do chickens.  We have had some productive meetings with small branches where we introduced the project, but nothing has really developed yet.  You will probably be hearing some about this in the future.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

LA TOMA

So what is “LA TOMA”?  Well hang on to your britches and we will tell you!

This week was full of excitement and adventure and went by like a blur.  For those of you who don’t have time to read this blog, click on the word PICTURES at the bottom of this blog.  But if you have time, read on, it was a VERY interesting week!
Church in Sabana Grande de Boya

We attended Church in Sabana Grande de Boya, a little branch that should have been a 1.5 hour drive.  We took the Despains, a couple who work in the temple and have no car and like to go out with us when they can.  The trip turned into a 3 hour drive because we got lost and went way out of our way—a long way!.  Because street names are a rare thing we have to rely on maps (not enough detail) and our GPS.  The GPS had a mind of its own and decided to take us the scenic route.  At one point we stopped at the side of the road to study the maps which didn’t help a lot.  A car passed us slowly and stopped on the side of the road a little ahead.  As we left and were passing that car, Wallace had the distinct impressed that the people had something to say to us, but he felt a little embarrassed to say that to the other people in the car, so we kept driving.  We drove for nearly an 20 minutes until we realized the GPS was just taking us to the nearest large city only to have us turn around and retrace our steps.  Before we arrived at the true destination we had traveled a lot of rough rocky roads through little towns who probably had never seen a group of white folk on their streets EVER.  When we finally pulled into the parking lot, there was the car which had stopped ahead of us!  It was the District President and his wife who had stopped because she had had the impression that we were missionaries and we were lost!  We got home safely from a wild adventure!
Leonel Duarte with INAPA

We have been trying to put together a w├íter project in San Juan de La Maguana to benefit a community called Los Montones and a home for adult males struggling with addictions called Hogar Crea.  There are two types of water systems, private and public.  Public water systems are all maintained by INAPA the national water provided.  However, INAPA has very little funds and struggles with the same problem that every other utility struggles with---- no infrastructure, no government support and people that do not hesitate to steal the utilities if they can.  It is just a way of life.  We finally had a meeting with Leonel Duarte which helped move the project along some.  We are finding water projects to be very difficult to manage.
Interview in Azua

Monday we interviewed the mother of a family of 5 who live in Buenos Aires, a neighborhood who is part of the water project we are investigating in Azua.  Dileysi is 31 years old, her husband is 32 years old.  He owns a motorcycle and works as a “motochacon” motorcycle taxi.  They have 3 daughters 10, 11, and 13. He is one of many men who sit on the side of the street waiting for someone to ask for a ride somewhere.  He earns $3,500 pesos (about $90 US) per month on a good month and spends about 26% of his take home pay or more on water for the family. 
The purpose of the interview was to try to have a personal sense of what it is like to live without any water in the house.  We asked permission to ask personal questions and to be able to use the photos and the video we took for whatever purpose.  Her words were very touching to us.  Though we listened to the words, we still cannot fathom the difficulties she labors under without that most precious of all liquids---water!  Here are some of our observations:

·         They purchase four 5 gallon bottles of potable water for a total of $120 pesos per week from a truck that drives through the neighborhood.

·         They pay $35 pesos each week to have a truck that drives through the neighborhood to fill a 55 gallon drum of non-potable water.  They put a little chlorine in the water to kill bugs and use this water for cleaning, bathing and washing clothes.

·         Their total consumption of water is about 2.3 gal/day/person compared to a design value for people in the USA = 123 gals/per/day (people use about 5.3 times the water consumption as this woman and her family)

                                                                   They never have money to fill the white tank
Her home consists of 2 rooms.  The kitchen is about 5’ square with a small propane cooking stove and a little table to prepare the meals.  The bedroom has two beds side by side.  Mom and Dad sleep in one bed and the 3 girls in the other bed.  The room is just barely big enough for the beds and a refrigerator that someone gave to them that doesn’t have anything in it.  She was very proud of the picture of Christ hanging on the wall as the only decoration.  There are no doors and no windows and one light bulb.  The heat during the day is almost unbearable.  They have one little dog that looks like it is starving to death and a few little potted plants the mother is so proud of.  She somehow squeezes enough water out to keep them alive.  They have an outside latrine.

Before water trucks started coming to town they had to walk several kilometers for water every day.

                                                                Rice and beans 2 times a day if you are lucky
Their living conditions are extremely difficult to describe and our words would not do it justice.  It is a great motivation to us to push forward to try to find some solution to their water problem. 

We are learning more about how things work here and how is it possible that the approximately 830 people living in her legal subdivision came to not have water or power.  In the USA you have to install the streets, power, telephone, internet, sewer and prove a 100 year supply of water before you subdivide your land and sell lots.  Not here! The problem is that anyone can subdivide property without any infrastructure and without any proof of water supply.   
We stopped in at the office of INAPA in Azua to see if we could find any support to solve this family’s water problem.  We visited with the head engineer and learned that she is struggling to keep up with the problems she has with the parts of the city she is providing water to now, much less think about adding over 800 home sites to the system.  They need pumps, vehicles, repair tools, hoses, tanks, etc. etc. They get very little money from the government and are basically putting band aids on serious infrastructure problems for a population that continues to grow.  There is no place in the city that does not experience water “blackouts” for days at a time every week of the year.  Of course none of the public water supply is potable.  INAPA has no resources to help and in fact were asking us for help before we had left her office!

El Cigual
We spent the entire day traveling with representatives of Sur Futuro to review 2 projects they want us to help them finance.  El Cigual is a water project that was put together by the prior missionaries and was approved by the Church to construct.  Then we come along and start asking questions and convinced everyone the water filtration system that had been proposed was not the right solution for the community.  The source of water they intended to use has a very high clay content and is very dirty with animal and human contamination.  The filtration system proposed was complicated and we were afraid it would surely clog up rapidly and thus not be a very locally sustainable project.  So Sur Futuro proposed another solution.

The new solution is to run 11 km of pipe to capture the water from a stream high in the mountains.  They took us in a 4-wheel drive up and down rough mountain roads to a stream that has water in it all year long.  The ride was rough, but the vistas from the tops of mountain peaks were incredible.  We took pictures, but the camera does not do it justice.

The point where the water is taken is called “LA TOMA”.  It just blows our minds how the system works around here.  Given the public water system has no resources, people just take things into their own hands.  If you want water and if you have a way to run the pipe, you just go find a place to capture the water into your pipe, lay claim to it with a sign and run your pipe.  This explains why we kept seeing 2 or 3 pipes every once in a while along the roads and trails.  Each pipe represents a different family, farmer or group who ran their own pipe to their own “Toma”.  The pipes were 1 to 2 inch pipe.  There is no cooperation to share in the cost of a bigger pipe to save costs and energy.  So the solution for El Cigual is probably going to be to lay yet another pipe alongside the others only we will run it further than the other pipes to get to El Cigual. 

                                                                                          "La Toma" for Cigual
When Sur Futuro asked the community whether they would rather have water now with a filter that might fail or clean water straight from the river but have to dig 11 km of ditch for the pipe and wait a little longer, the men voted for the filter—the women voted for the 11 km of pipe!  The community is already out clearing the brush and trees blocking the view of the land surveyor.  We have told them the Church has to approve the additional funds before the project is real, but they are moving forward because they believe this is what God wants.

Monte Bonito
On the same day as our trip to El Cigual we drove to the site of another possible project called Monte Bonito.  The 4 wheel drive had difficulty with this one.  We eventually reached an elevation of over 5000 feet above sea level which is only ½ way up the mountain.  Pico Duarte is over 10,000 feet high!  The views along this trail made the views of Cigual blush!  Again we took pictures, but there is no way to describe how beautiful and green it is. 


Finally we reached the “Toma” which is situated on the side of a steep embankment just below a lagoon. There is plenty of water for the “Monte Bonito” community about 5 km away.

We drove up the road a little further to the lagoon where one of our guides explained that 2 Americans had tried to find the bottom of the lagoon, but couldn’t and that local legend has it that a monster lives in the lagoon!  The GPS coordinates of the lagoon are:  18.69758,-70.84292 at an elevation of 5100 feet.

The following picture is of Edith and Wallace standing in front of the lagoon with Edith demonstrating a perfect Dominican Pucker.  They use puckered lips to point.

                                                       Monster Lagoon (Edith with her perfected Dominican Pucker)
This project will consist of running 5 km of pipe and then pipe through the community.  No approvals are needed—just do the work.

San Jose de Ocoa Food
We got a good start to a food project in San Jose de Ocoa, about a 1.5 hour drive from our home in Santo Domingo.  San Jose de Ocoa is a little community on the edges of the mountains.  The setting is beautiful!

Approximately 30 people attended the meeting where we introduced the food project to them.  The Despains went with us on this trip also.  We sang an opening song using the Ukulele.  We asked a few questions to begin.  Here are some interesting statistics:
·         9 families produce some food on their lots
·         No families store any food
·         1 person has a garden
·         13 families know how to grow a garden
·         30 families want to have a garden!
                                          Wallace showing how to get a supply of beans without costing anything
Wallace asked them if so many people wanted to have a garden, why didn’t they have a garden?  It was touching to hear them tell of the difficult circumstances in which they live and lack of resources.  It makes us feel happy to be involved in a project that may help these people become more self-sufficient.

Wallace showed them how they can all begin to obey the prophet,s counsel to get a supply of food in their home without costing one single centavo.  He held up a small empty plastic water bottle and showed that each time the mother prepares a pot of habichuelas (beans) she can take a small amount like that would fit in the palm of your hand and put in the bottle to save.  If she does it without the family seeing her do it, no-one will miss it in the meal.  If she does it over and over every meal, before you know it, the bottle will be filled with habichuelas.  And before you know it, you will have several bottles stored.  They can do the same thing with rice and salt.  That seemed to be an eye opener to them.
Wallace also showed them how they can dry pineapple, papaya, mangos and bananas in the hot Dominican sun.  Nobody does that here and were not sure they caught onto the idea that this is another way they can follow the counsel to store up food for when a storm hits and the trees are knocked over and the colmado (corner store) doesn’t have any food.  They will have food and water if they follow this counsel!

                                                                   Cheap homemade fruit drier
We showed them a film from the Ministry of Agriculture on how to build a grow box for a garden.  They were all very interested in this.  During the meeting the branch president said one of their biggest challenges is “water”.  So we are back to the water thing again.  He asked if the project might include a pump and pipes to bring water from the river that runs at the bottom of the hill all year long.  We told them there is that possibility.  They need to design a solution to their problems and present it to us for consideration, just like the Brother of Ether thought up a solution and proposed it to the Lord.

The Food and Water project are a great blessing to us to be able to work hand in hand with the Lord in finding solutions to some very severe problems.
 We haven’t solved any big problems yet, but we are doing our best and feel the love and guidance of the Lord every day.  We wish all of you were here to lend a hand!

PICTURES

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Elaborate and the Humble


15 July 2012   Rags and Riches.  Elaborate to Humble.  We saw both this week.  We were invited by Sur Futuro, one of the organizations we work with to a celebration held at a fancy hotel, El Embajador, and ended the week working on a water project among people of very humble circumstances.  One we had to recall all our Etiquette skills.  The other we hiked rough trails and roads working with a people who  survive with little to nothing.
SUR FURTRO celebrated the completion of an eleven year project called “Proyecto Sabana Yegua Sostenible”, a project to improve the sustainability of the land by creating 500 mini farms with irrigation, plants, education and other social improvements.  The Church was involved in one of their projects called the Arroyo Project.  Sur Futuro didn’t cut any corners and put on a very impressive program with full media coverage.  We were on the front row so we hope they didn’t catch us sleeping.

                                
                               Wallace at a Grand Piano in the lobby of the Embajador Hotel
                                               where the Sur Futuro Event was held
LENORE GIBBS: 7 July 2012 Gary Montero the branch president of the Consuelo branch invited us to visit with a Catholic Nun about some potential humanitarian projects.  Her name is Lenore Gibbs.  Once again we found a wonderful kindred spirit.  Lenore came to Consuelo when she was 23 years at a time there was tremendous hatred among the native Dominicans, Haitains and Cocolos.  The schools were a mess.  She and two other Catholic nuns began working on the school system and after years of dedicated efforts managed to create a school system 2nd to none.  Almost everything they created came to ashes when the government took over their school.  They continued to work in the neighborhood and have succeeded in winning the hearts of the people and constructing an old folks home, an arts center and now they are constructing a large expansion of the old folks home and a technical high school.  Lenore is a wonderful person who like so many others here in the Dominican Republic have rendered wonderful service to the people over an extend period of time---in fact they have dedicated their lives.

This picture is of Pres. Gary Montero, Lenore Gibbs and the Haws in front of a Technical School that Lenore managed to get support sufficient that it is under construction.
                                                        Wallace with a 107 year old man

                                                              Leonore with a Haitian man
Most of the men brought to this facility are men who have worked hard all their lives until the day they dropped.  Not having any family or friends there were simply abandoned.  The lucky ones found their way to the old folk home run by Leonore.

                                    
Ambulance dispatch site

Not all of Lenore’s projects turned out good.  She managed to get an ambulance donated by someone out of the country.  It was supposed to be able to pass through customs for free, but by the time they paid the fees it was $240,000 pesos = about $6,170 US.  The town celebrated as the ambulance drove through town with the siren blasting.  The ambulance was taken over by the local government and ended up being the transportation for their families to go to the beach on vacation or to bring prostitutes into town.  The Ambulance broke and has been repaired once but is now needing repairs and just sits here at the ambulance dispatch.
We are still trying to figure out how we can help her given we do not construct buildings and we do not give money to people
AZUA:  Friday we traveled to Azua, 2 hours to the west to work on a water development project for three communities.  The people in these areas are very poor and have no water to their homes.  They have to buy water from the occasional water truck that comes by to fill their tanks or barrels. Many times they don’t have money to buy the water.  We are trying to help them with a project to bring water from the river to a tank on the hill then put in waterlines to the homes.
We first met with the Water Committee to plan what we were going to say to the Mayor.  It was a good experience helping them organize their thoughts and write out two main goals for the visit.  Unfortunately, the mayor chose to not attend and sent his executive secretary instead.  One of the purposes of the meeting was to get the support of the Mayor to apply a little pressure to the national water office INAPA that is responsible to provide water to the people.  INAPA up to this point has refused to listen to the pleas of the people.
Wallace was really in his element, hiking with GPS unit in hand, up and down the streets of the community taking readings so he could create a map.  Edith was sent down the hill to the river with community members.  It was supposed to be the short cut.  It took some hiking skills to get down and back up the hill.  Wallace carried his GPS and collected data every 20 houses along the path of the water line. Most of it we walked and some we drove in the little blue toyota corolla covering at least 8 kilometers in all. Edith spent her time walking slowly along visiting with a nice lady who is a member of the water committee.

There is very little employment in the area so most of the people we saw were just sitting in the shade trying to stay as cool as possible.  We don’t know what the temperature was, but it was very hot.  No-one has area conditioning or reliable power.  The power lines were just old pieces of wire strung together and held up with short pieces of branches.  There is no doubt the power is all stolen power just pieced together as people got brave enough to make another connection.  We only saw this one youth man putting together fishing line and hooks that was doing anything productive.  We are not saying this in a deraugatory way.  If you have no money or resourses or education, you haven’t eatten a decent meal in a long time, you are dirty because you have no water, and it is so hot it hurts to move around, then it is very difficult to be motivated about life.

These two little boys were fun to watch.  They were so engrossed in what they were doing, they didn’t see this white man walk quietly up to them and take their picture as they were intently trying to figure out how to make a kite out of a plastic bag and a short piece of string.  You can see they don't have many clothes on.  We watched them a little while and saw they had some success when they tied it to a long pole and lifted it up as high as they could.  This was the only toy they had to play with.  What if that were all you got for Christmas!
The following are some scenes we saw along the way.  The people in the blue shirts are members of the water committee.


Here are a couple of movies to watch. 
LITTLE GIRL PLAYING WITH A HOOP IN THE STREET

MORIR AND VIVIR PLANT
This plant shirks when you touch it and then comes to life in a few minutes.  It is some kind of defense mechanism.

Click here for pictures.
PICTURES
 
Here is a picture of us at a presentation

Wallace successfully completed collecting the data he needed and will try to figure out some way of getting it into a map so quantities can be taken and a cost estimate performed.  There are approximately 1000 home sites involved and about 600 families in this project.  All families are living without any running water.  The standard design value for water use is 10 liters per person per day = 2.6 gallons per person per day.  Can you imagine living on that little bit of water per day?



It was a fun and very interesting, but physically demanding week!


Saturday, July 7, 2012

TERRORIST!!!

This is the story of how Wallace became a Terrorist.

We read in the paper where the government was fed up with people running red lights so they were starting a law through congress to treat people who run red lights as “Terrorists”.  The next week Wallace was driving with Edith through Barahona.  We came to an intersection where the traffic light didn’t work.  Of course that is a very common dilemma wherever you are in the Dominican Republic.  There are at least 2 lights that have never worked for the 3 months we have been here that we have to pass through every day.  The intersection was clear, so Wallace drove on through.  Two blocks up the road a group of policemen are standing in the road.  Some people get through, some don’t.  Wallace was stopped and cited for running a red light!  When he protested, the police said, “Look, it works fine!”.  Sure enough, in his direction the light worked fine.  Wallace is now a terrorist!

 When you get a ticket, you take the little slip of paper you receive to the National Bank anywhere in the country.  For every ticket, they know what to charge you.  You pay your fine and get your ticket stamped and away you go.  Piece of cake.  Wallace’s ticket was $1,000.00 RD.  (about $25 US).  Now Wallace is an X-Terrorist!

 Driving in Santo Domingo is like a roller coaster ride at Disneyland.  First time drivers and passengers alike are usually white knuckled and astonished out of their wits.  We haven’t ceased to be on edge when in the car, but it helps to understand the “rules” of the game.

 There are the usual written rules of driving like white and yellow lane markers, green, yellow and red lights at intersections, one-way signs, no-parking signs, directional signs, etc.  These are the written rules, but they are not the rules everyone plays the game by.  The real rules are not written in a manual someplace.

Here are the unwritten rules.

  1.  BIG:  Never argue with a vehicle bigger than you.
  2. FLOW:  Travel in the direction everyone else is generally traveling and don’t get hung up about being on the wrong side of the road or going in the wrong direction.
  3. PICK:  If the nose of your vehicle is in front of the vehicle next to you, you can move into their lane and cut them off at anytime.  You must be able to do that or you will get no-where.  Being polite is not a safe thing most of the time.  You have to have a little aggresiveness.
  4. BLOCK:  This is an essential rule.  If you come to a busy intersection without a stop light and you want to go through the intersection.  Take advantage of the person next to you who used the “pick” rule to stop traffic.  Use their “block” and move out.  Always keep your eyes open for the “block” rule.
  5. NO-SEE-CHICKEN:  If you are entering an intersection or a “pick” situation, if you are real brave you can look the other way instead of looking at oncoming traffic and just move into the intersection and cut into the traffic without warning.   If you look at the oncoming traffic, you have lost the game because you acknowledged the oncoming and they will pick you off.
  6. MALHECHOS:  It is better to give way to the Malhechos even if you have an advantage over them because of the “big” or “pick” or “block” rules because they have nothing to loose.  Malhechos is what we call guaguas (buses) and taxis.  They are so beat up they have nothing to loose and they will win the pick and no-see chicken every time so it is best to just make way for them.  They will cross over 3 lanes of traffic without warning if they want to.


 SPEED  We really don’t like this rule, but it is a fact of life that a driver who has the nerve to drive fast can open up spaces where none existed a moment before because others see him coming and figure the fast driver is either an INTOCABLE or has enough nerve to do just about anything.  We saw our first seed limit sign after 3 months of driving.  We didn’t think they even existed.  We don’t speed because with speed a lot of people can get hurt real fast.
  1. INTOCABLES  Intocables are the untouchables.  These are politicians who are proceeded down the road by motorcyles driven by men dressed in black uniforms.  They come out of no-where, stop in the middle of intersections and everyone stops and lets the intocables go through unchallenged.  Ambulances on the other hand have no better chance on the road than anyone else and can take an hour to go a block.  Nobody gives way for them.
  2. ALERTNESS:  Dominicans are very alert drivers.  You cannot be sight-seeing or carrying on much of a conversation while you drive because you must be 100% into your driving.  The person in the front passenger side is not just a passenger, they are the “co-pilot” and must be as alert as the driver.
  3. OBSTACLES:  In the midst of all of this you can suddenly without warning be confronted with a sewer manhole which is missing a manhole cover, or a big hole where the road collapsed neither of which have any warning signs or barricades even though they have been there for months.  Or a ladder will be leaning against some overhead wires with a man sitting on the wires doing his work and the base of the latter is obstructing the outer lane.  Or a malhecho can suddenly decide to stop in the outer lane to pick up passengers or the same malhecho darting from the outside lane to the left lane so he can turn—all of this without looking or signaling or waiting for anyone.  Or a big ditch next to the curb where you are headed into a tight turn around the corner.   One obstacle we see frequently is a man in a wheel chair who parks in the outside lane of one of the busiest streets in town.  He waves and smiles at everyone, especially us because the Church donated his wheelchair to him!
  4. MOTOS: There are thousands and thousands of motorcycles.  They can carry as many as 5 people or large baskets, propane tanks, lawnmowers, 2x4s, animals, or just about anything.  When we think we have seen it all, we see something else incredible.  They don’t usually obey any rules and dart in and out of traffic or on the sidewalk or in the wrong direction.  You have to pretty much ignore them or you go crazy.  (as a Church, we have given lots of orthopedic limbs to former moto riders.)

Traffic lights are obeyed if convenient, you ignore lanes markings, there is no speed limit and if convenient it doesn’t matter if you go in the wrong direction on one-way streets or even on the wrong side of the road.

Wallace claims he actually enjoys driving.  “It is like being on a Disneyland bumper car ride of mega-proportions.  If you like playing video games you are going to love driving in the Dominican Republic.  I have learned all the above unwritten rules pretty well, but I don’t speed.  If you speed I figure it is only a matter of time before you hit a moto and take some guy’s leg off.  It is better to arrive then not arrive at all.  But the rest of the rules work pretty well.  One thing for sure though is I will not be able to drive on American roads ever again without getting mega-tickets.”

We have numbers to call if we have an accident, but we are told to never get in an argument with a malhecho because the police will support them every time.  It is best to try to settle the matter quickly and right there before the police are involved.

We have been sideswiped and lost our front bumper which we tied on with wire so we could get home.  Wallace backed into another car causing damage and spend the morning one day at the police station.  Wallace has one ticket for running a red light.  We have seen a lot of close call moto accidents; seen a big truck rear-end a car with severe damage; and came on an accident where a pedestrian was plastered on the asphalt.

Other than that, driving is great.

The reality is, driving in the Dominican Republic is a very serious thing.  We probably drive more than any other pair of missionaries and our exposure is great.  We don’t leave the house without a prayer specific to driving and we don’t drive unless we have to.